This spring, the health team at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City, launched a Women's Health & Healing Group for Afghan women wanting to learn how to adapt to a healthier lifestyle. The group meets each Friday morning and goes until the afternoon. Members of the IRC health team organize and facilitate holistic health activities for the group such as going for walks, structuring conversations on mental and physical health, and more. 

In 2021, the IRC successfully completed a Health & Healing program for women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The efforts of the Health & Healing program, initiated with generous support from Intermountain Healthcare and as a result of feedback from refugee women, focus on an eight-week therapeutic curriculum. The pilot cohort from the DRC included a group of five women who engaged in discussion and activity about how to live a healthy lifestyle in all aspects of life.  

The Health & Healing Group covers everything from meditation and yoga, and spending time outdoors, to creating a healthy social environment. The women who completed the 2021 cohort, all found it beneficial in at least one practical aspect of their lives. One of the ladies mentioned that it helped a lot for them to learn how to care for themselves, what kind of food they should eat, and emotional support. The whole group saw benefits to exercise, eating better, and finding a community to connect with.  

Group of women sitting on a tapestry outside talking about and discussing mental health.
Hannah Parrish, right, and health team members meet with Afghan women each week to talk about holistic health practices.
Photo: Mikaela Herman/IRC

Hannah Parrish, health program manager, and her team have observed the positive impact the current Health & Healing Group has had on the participating Afghan women. After the rapid evacuation from Afghanistan this past fall, the Group offered an opportunity for women to find and connect with each other. It can be hard to feel comfortable enough to build a social network from scratch when moving to a new place. There have also been cultural roadblocks to overcome as some women feel uncomfortable walking alone or venturing out to new places on their own like a local gym or park. The Group offers women a safe space to explore the available resources in their new community while learning about the neighborhoods in which they live.  

“We met in Liberty Park one week, and they went to City Creek Center on their last meeting,” said Hannah. “The goal is to show them around the community so that once the group ends, they can meet up with each other.” Other times, the women gather to discuss the health system in the U.S., how it differs from their home country and the IRC health team’s involvement with their health appointments. An interpreter joins each session to support communication.  

Through clinical research, the IRC has found that the best way to reach refugee populations with ideas of holistic health is through group sessions. This method of psycho-social support provides community healing practices that are more sustainable for long-term success. By asking open-ended questions and giving discussion prompts, the IRC health team is able to facilitate the conversation while opening up space for the women in the group to speak freely about what is going on in their lives.  

Holistic health means whole-person health. The subject matter for the participating women was not just physical and mental health, but also factoring in other social determinants of health, including where they live, their environment, social network, job, and English levels that shape the state of their health and wellbeing, not solely focused on symptoms and diagnoses.   

Four women, some with children on their laps, sitting in lawn chairs outside at a park in early spring discussing mental health with the International Rescue Committee health team.
Weekly meetings can vary from exercise to discussions about the U.S. healthcare system.
Photo: Mikaela Herman/IRC

The Women’s Health &Healing program encourages not only refugee women to enhance their health and wellbeing, it also serves as a motivator for the community! A great way to serve someone who has recently arrived in Utah is to show them around and plug them into your community. “We start these groups for the women for the joy they get out of it and the immediate benefit they see from it,” said Hannah.

You can help us expand the efforts of the Women’s Health & Healing Group by connecting with Hannah Parrish, health program manager, to explore ideas to expand the curriculum or increase visits to new areas of the community. Reach out via email at [email protected] to start the conversation.